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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Rules: When To Follow The Rules Of Writing And When To Go Rogue by: Larissa Ione

THE RULES. Yeah, you know what they are. Don’t write about musician heroes or sports stars. Submit your manuscript only in Courier font. No sentence fragments. Always do an in-depth character interview so you know your hero and heroine. Make sure none of your characters’ names start with the same letter. You can’t sell a book if you don’t include a synopsis with the proposal. Avoid using “that.”

Etcetera, etcetera, blah, blah.

Okay, that said, writing rules exist for a reason, exactly like laws. Many laws, including crazy ones,( http://www.dumblaws.com/) exist because someone committed an act that didn’t quite pan out. For example, in Texas it is illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story window of a hotel. You just know that some idiot attempted just that, leading lawmakers to create a law.

In the writing world, the hotel buffalo might be character names that start with the same letter or romances with sports star heroes. Maybe historically, those sports books have not done well, leading to the “no sports star” rule you hear all the time.

But…Susan Elizabeth Phillips, anyone?

There are clearly exceptions to every rule. They do exist for a reason, but they can be broken by the right author, the right circumstance.

I’ve always been vocal about learning the rules. I truly believe that the how-to books can be a writer’s best friend. I tell all aspiring authors to learn the rules. Memorize them. Live and breathe them.

Then throw them all away. Following the rules to the letter can stifle your voice, your writing, and your creativity. But it’s important to know them because people who break rules effectively know exactly why they are breaking them.

If you need to use a “that” in a sentence for clarity, use it! I can’t tell you how many unpublished contest entries I’ve read where it was obvious that the writer went through the manuscript and eliminated them to the point that some of the sentences needed a re-read. Take out the second “that” in my previous sentence and you can see what I mean. The first instance can be deleted. The second? I wouldn’t. Yeah, yeah, call the rule police.

Remember this (ooh, it’s a rule!): Readability and voice trumps perfection. Sure, grammatical correctness is, for the most part, desirable, but sometimes your voice or your character’s voice demands a broken rule…a missing comma, a run-on sentence, a sentence fragment.

And your plot might require a sports star, cancer, or two-dozen different supernatural species (yes, I heard the, “Don’t populate your paranormal romance with dozens of species,” rule to distraction when I was writing my Demonica series – which, I’m happy to say, has more than two dozen types of supernatural species populating the pages.)

Or you might hate Courier font (I can’t stand it, and neither can some editors I’ve talked to,) so if it drives you nuts, don’t use it! More and more New York publishers are now using word count instead of page count (most of mine are,) so the old formula that required the use of Courier because it imitated typewriter font with constant size/spacing isn’t as important. Follow publisher guidelines for manuscript format, but generally, they just want your book to be readable. I use Times New Roman 14, double-spaced, with 1” margins. Contrary to popular belief, your book won’t be rejected because you used 1” margins instead of 1 ½” or vice versa.

Basically, use common sense when determining which rules to bend or break. Take some risks if you feel comfortable. “Safe” has its place, but the occasional risk can provide a lot of excitement, unpredictability and edge in your writing. The clever rogue can break the rules without anyone ever realizing it happened.

So what about you? Are you a rule-breaker? If so, which of the infamous writing rules do you like to break?


Larissa Ione, an Air Force veteran, has been a meteorologist, an EMT, and a professional dog trainer, often all at the same time. But she was always a writer, and her dream career became reality when she sold her very first story to Red Sage in 2006. She now a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author who writes for multiple publishers, including Grand Central Publishing, Kensington Books, and Samhain. She also co-writes erotic romantic suspense for Bantam Dell under the name Sydney Croft.

Ecstasy Unveiled

A Demon Enslaved

Lore is a Seminus half-breed demon who has been forced to act as his dark master’s assassin. Now to earn his freedom and save his sister’s life, he must complete one last kill. Powerful and ruthless, he’ll stop at nothing to carry out this deadly mission.

An Angel Tempted…

Idess is an earthbound angel with a wild side sworn to protect the human Lore is targeting. She’s determined to thwart her wickedly handsome adversary by any means necessary—even if that means risking her vow of eternal chastity. But what begins as a simple seduction soon turns into a passion that leaves both angel and demon craving complete surrender.

Torn between duty and desire, Lore and Idess must join forces as they battle their attraction for each other. Because an enemy from the past is rising again—hellbent on vengeance and unthinkable destruction.


Suza Kates said...
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Suza Kates said...

Head-hopping. The dreaded no-no! Some of my favorite authors do this with no problem, and I love knowing what each character is thinking about in the same scene. (Usually just hero-heroine, don't want to go overboard)
I follow the rules in most books I write, but have a certain series that I want to have that feel of camaraderie, and nothing does that like a little hop. ; )

Danica Avet said...

Ummm, I'm such a rebel that I I think I've broken every rule you've mentioned! Let's see...head hopping (like Suza I want to know what everyone's thinking!), numerous supernatural races (think Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons and you've got my world), and names starting with the same letter. I've got 5 sisters all starting with the letter 'P'. Why? because their mom's name starts with a 'P' and that's the way she wanted it. I know whole families like this, it's a realistic quirk some parents have, why shouldn't it be included in books?

Great post. I think you should start the Romance Writers Rebel Club. I'll join! Oh and sooo looking forward to getting my hands on your next book!

Larissa Ione said...

Ooh, yes...head-hopping! That's actually one of the rules I tend to follow. It's SO hard to do it well, and I doubt my ability to shift POV's in a scene. I might make ONE shift, but that's it!

Thanks for stopping by, Suza!

Larissa Ione said...

LOL, Danica! I like the way you think!

Lisa Kessler said...

Ha! I've never heard a couple of those rules! LOL

Linda Howard was speaking at my last Chapter meeting and her parting advice to everyone was "tell your story". She said don't worry abotu any rules, just tell it the way it needs to be told.

Sounds like great advice! :)

Fun blog Larissa!!! Thansk for sharing your insights!

Lisa :)

Jae Lynne Davies said...
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Jae Lynne Davies said...

Great advice! I must admit to having broken a few of these rules. Sometimes it is necessary and relative to how a certain character thinks or feels. I'm glad to see that others feel the same way.

By the way, I finished reading the third book in the Demonica series last night and I loved it! More specific, I love those Seminus demon brothers and can't wait for Ecstasy Unveiled.

Anonymous said...

To be different you have to break the rules. I mean, otherwise, your story will sounds like everyone else's story. Right? I guess I have broken the rules.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips at National (the seminar she does with Jayne Ann Krentz on the Best-Selling Sisterhood is fabulous) -- she said that she didn't know about the sports star rule and that's the only reason she broke it. I think the moral on that one is not to seek out rules. They're not worth collecting.

Larissa Ione said...

Lisa, I completely agree with Linda! :)

Thank you, Jae! I'm so glad you enjoyed the books!

Sapphire, I think breaking rules can definitely make your stories different and more edgy! I really think everyone breaks rules at some point in their writing, which I think is great! Definitely adds individuality.

Jeffe...interesting...not sure I agree though. Saying you shouldn't bother to know them because you might strike gold like SEP is kind of like justifying not wearing a seat belt because that one in a million person was thrown from a car and survived, when had they been strapped in they might have died.

Okay, that's a little dramatic, but I do think it's important to learn the craft and know the rules of the road. Once you do that, you can shove them all in the trash.

Of course, everyone has a different method, and everyone writes differently, so my opinion is just that, an opinion, and YMMV. :) I know my writing partner, Stephanie, feels completely the opposite of the way I feel on this. She felt that the how-to books stifled her. So this is definitely a personal choice!

Karin Shah said...

Great post! I can't wait to read Ecstasy Unveiled.

I used to be a terrible head-hopper, to the point that I gave up revising my first manuscript (which I think is a great story) because there was so much hopping. My second manuscript releases in print today! Sometimes it does pay to follow the rules*g*!

Karin Shah
In print now from Samhain publishing
An undercover agent, a beautiful space pirate, with the fate of the galaxy at risk, love may not be enough...

Dawn McClure said...

Yep, I've broken a few of those rules. Two of my characters, Alexia and Azazel, both started with the same letter. When I realized that (amazingly halfway through my ms), I nicknamed her Lexie. lol

And I can't head-hop. I'm in awe of those who can, and they do so with what appears to be ease. I just start a new scene for a new POV. ;)

Wonderful post. Rules are important, but constantly worrying about them will kill the creativity.

Thanks, Larissa. :)

Larissa Ione said...

Congratulations, Karin! That's awesome!!!!

Thanks, Dawn! I'm in awe of those people too. I generally just start a new scene as well, because I just don't feel like I have the skill to pull off many POV switches. I'd say I have maybe one scene per book in which the POV switches mid-scene.

BTW, Jaffe...I know you didn't say anything about not "bothering" to learn the rules! I was speaking more to a general audience about learning the critical things (basic grammar, submission guidelines, etc.) than responding specifically to your comment about collecting some of the goofy rules to distraction. :)

Lea said...

Great post as always Larissa. I'm not a creative writer so I can't speak to the rules you are outlining here.

However I do write legal documents and rigid is the rule. As in this is the way it's done and don't change anything. Why? Well, because that is the way it is... lol (Makes sense right?)

Readability usually goes by the wayside when it comes to legal documents unfortunately.

Best to you

Charity said...

I follow most rules, but definitely not all of them. I started breaking them after one incident convinced me that there are always exceptions.

A few years back, I was working on a story that featured a hockey player for a hero. Somehow, I got around to that "rule" -- no sports stars. I emailed a big name NY house asking about the marketability of such a hero, and got a polite email informing me that it was basically a NO NO except for the already established Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Rachel Gibson (who, at the time, had written a few books with hockey heroes).

Not one year after I got that email, Deirdre Martin's debut novel came out featuring a hockey player... with several more that followed.

So I learned then: sometimes it's okay to break the rules. There's still someone out there who might buy it :)

Larissa Ione said...

Lea, glad to see you here! And yikes, the legal writing...it's funny, because it follows all the rules, is so technically perfect, and yet...so unreadable! LOL

Finny, good for you! :) I think, as the saying goes, for a lot of the rules, like the sports one, "It's all in the execution!"

Unknown said...

Larissa Loved your blog post it was great! As far as rule breaking I haven't tried it yet although I do find that I tend to veer outside the lines a bit, but quickly try and bring it back. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I can't wait till Lore's Book comes out and will be doing a Demonica Readathon right before Lore hits the scene!((How to get back in touch with the brothers)) Can't wait to read the spin off, how's the coming along BTW. I know you can't give out the juicy tidbits, but man you got a girl over here super excited!